Exercising for good mental health
For once, we all seem to be talking about mental health. That's a great thing.
However, in the Western world, we have a tendency to separate mind and body when it comes to health and well-being, seeing the two things as being distinct and even independent of each other. This has never made sense to me. Without getting all 'zen' on you, it seems clear to me that we just work better when our mind and body are as one.
Physical exercise has always been closely, and obviously, linked to mental well-being for me.
There's a lot of chemistry involved in this relationship, the release of 'happy' endorphins being the most commonly understood effect of exercise on the brain. Regularly putting the body under a level of controlled stress through exercise can help the brain build up resistance to 'real-world' stress and anxiety. There are some fascinating studies and books out there on the subject. One book recommended to me which covers a no-nonsense approach to finding good mental health and contains an interesting section on exercise is 'Sane: how I shaped up my mind, improved my mental health and found calm' by journalist Emma Young.
For me personally, though, it's very simple. Taking control of your physical fitness through exercise is fundamentally a positive thing to do. The more positive things you do in your life, the more positive you will feel. Every person who has managed to get themselves into the gym, every person that is out for a run in the sunshine, every person who chooses to use the stairs instead of the lift, is doing something that will make them physically fitter and feel mentally stronger. That's amazing. The more you do to improve your health, the more positive you will feel. Once you've committed to putting those trainers on, you're beginning an upwards cycle of mental well-being.
I believe that exercising is largely responsible for my positive outlook on life. Sure, I can get grumpy like anyone else (there are people in my life who will definitely attest to this) but I know that a good work-out will always help me re-focus and lift my mood.
Exercising is just a way of being good to yourself, of doing what your body was originally designed to do. We have evolved as a species to move, to interact with others, to run, jump, climb, and play. For most of us, modern life mostly means sitting in the car, sitting in front of the TV, sitting at a desk, sitting on a train thinking about what we need to do when we sit at our desk. We just weren't built to do this, it's not good for us. Remember Tarzan, the dude that lived in the Jungle and spent his time outside, swinging between the trees and talking to elephants? OK it was a TV show, but stick with me. Do you remember the episode where Tarzan takes a duvet day because his boss keeps emailing after hours, and the company is down-sizing just as he's bought a new car on credit? No, me either. OK, none of us has the luxury of being Tarzan, but making time to be just a little bit more like him can only be a good thing.